Let’s face it — breaking up sucks. Not only did your relationship end, but you also feel like a crazy person.
Some days, it’s hard to get out of bed. Others, you have to physically force yourself to put down the phone so you won’t call your ex. While it’s undeniably hard to break up, it might make you feel better that some of your post-breakup “craziness” is just your body’s natural response to your break up. Here’s what the experts say is really going on.
You experience physical pain
If you feel like you’re in actual pain after a breakup, it isn’t just you. Dr Cwanza A. Pinckney, a board-certified emergency physician, told me, “After a traumatic emotional event like a breakup, your body truly does experience physical pain. Medical research shows that the same pain receptors that are triggered when you break a leg, light up just the same after a painful breakup. Pain medications have even be used to calm these receptors and blunt the pain response.”
You go through withdrawal
Just like you can experience withdrawal if you quit smoking, you can experience similar symptoms after a breakup.
Dr Pinckney told me, “A break up with an intimate partner can truly elicit withdrawal symptoms that mimic withdrawal off of drugs. Love relationships cause the brain to secrete pleasure producing hormones that feed our internal pleasure and reward system much like heroin or cocaine. The rapid withdrawal of an intimate partner can cause your body to crave your former partner much like drug addicts crave their drug of choice.”
Maybe that’s why you’re eating so much more ice cream than usual — it’s the equivalent of a breakup nicotine patch!
You gain or lose weight
If you find yourself gaining or losing weight, you’re definitely not alone.
Dr Pinckney explained, “Weight loss and gain is very common after a breakup. If you are gaining weight most likely it is the little stress monster in your brain known as cortisol that, when overstressed, will convince you that you need to devour an entire pizza or chocolate cake because you have to have it.”
If you’re more like me and tend to lose weight, she explained it this way. “On the reverse side, your body is being flooded with adrenaline which essentially overstimulates your cortisol levels but in a great many people the flooding of adrenaline will suppress the appetite and cause weight loss by metabolic stimulation and appetite suppression.”
You get stressed out
Breakups are incredibly stressful, and that stress can lead to additional problems, as well. Caddell told me, “Stress hormones like cortisol are released, which over time, can lead to decreased immune functioning and a lot of other health problems. Your body is essentially weaker after a breakup.”
Dr Lynn Anderson, yoga therapist and natural health expert, added, “In survival mode cortisol can be lifesaving. It helps to maintain fluid balance and blood pressure while regulating body functions that aren’t so important when stressed such as reproductive drive, immunity, digestion, and growth. When we are going through a break up we tend to dwell on the issues and this constant producing of cortisol suppresses the immune system, increases blood pressure and blood sugar, and may contribute to obesity. Over the long run, this can create severe health issues.”
But don’t let that stress you out further — instead, be even more intentional about taking care of yourself. If you feel like going for a massage, go ahead and splurge. It’s better that you deal with your stress now than let it get out of control.
Your hormones go berserk
Cortisol isn’t the only hormone in your body that’s acting up, either. Dr Anderson explained, “Adrenaline and norepinephrine are two hormones that the body produces in the face of stress. Both hormones push the response button by raising your heart rate, tensing your muscles, producing quick short breaths and making you sweat.”
She added, “They shift blood and oxygen away from areas that might not be so crucial, like your skin, immune system and vital organs. Often the loss of appetite, skin breakouts, headaches, and illness due to ineffective immune responses are the results. What you feel is a rush of tense energy surging through your system, shortness of breath, foggy thoughts, and a pounding heart.”
If you feel tense or overstressed, take a deep breath, meditate, or do something calming for yourself. You may not be with your ex anymore, but you can still give yourself the love and attention you deserve. Dr Pinckney told me, “Meditation and breathing [have] been scientifically proven to decrease stress hormones, promote a sense of well being, and help you reconnect to the power within yourself as you go through this time of transition.”
You have brain activity that leads to obsessing over your ex
Have you ever obsessed over your ex without knowing how to stop? I know I have. I was relieved to find out that this is actually a completely normal response to breaking up.
Caddell told me, “Helen Fisher has done a great deal of brain research on love and breakups. She and her team have found that among people in love, there is increased activity in the region of the brain that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is highly related with the brain/body’s reward system, focus, and intense interest.” She went on, “After a breakup, this area of your brain also gets activated, so you may be likely to obsess about the person, without any rewards. Anyone who has been in this situation understands how difficult it can be to get out of because you would like to forget the person and move on, but unfortunately, you can’t stop thinking about them.”
The next time your best friend tells you to “Just get over it,” point her to this article and explain that it isn’t you being obsessive — it’s just your brain reacting normally.
You feel lethargic
Do you ever feel like you can’t through the day without multiple naps? After a breakup, your body naturally feels more lethargic because it’s processing the emotional experience you just had.
Stephen Duclos, certified sex therapist, family therapist, mental health counsellor, and rehabilitation counsellor, told me, “When we break up with a close relational or sexual partner, we experience a sense of fatigue as if we have just finished a kind of emotional marathon. This is our body’s way of moving backwards before it can move forward again.”
Let yourself indulge in a few extra naps, knowing that your fatigue is temporary and you’ll be back to your old energetic self soon.
If your friends just can’t handle hearing you obsess about your ex anymore, Caddell recommended, “Find a therapist to talk these things through with and work them out with. With your therapist’s help, you can develop a narrative and understand meaning around what happened so that you can properly grieve the loss and move on with your life.”
The physical aftereffects of a break up are painful, but they won’t last forever. Soon, you’ll be back to your happy, energetic self and your ex will just be a blip on the radar of your life. Until then, take care of yourself, be patient, and stock up on your favourite ice cream.
This is a great time to indulge and enjoy the little things in life.
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